Back in the spring, it was pretty much a given that rookie second-round wide receiver James Washington was going to be working with the first-team offense, though so many starters were missing from that lineup that it would be hard to even call it that, outside of the offensive line.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers’ newest wide receiver is fully expected to be their number three target by the time the regular season opens, however, he hasn’t been working a lot with the first-team unit once training camp opened and all hands have been on deck. Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster have been regular participants when healthy, and in those cases, Justin Hunter has taken a lot of the number three role snaps.
After a good showing in his preseason debut, however, it looks like the team is giving Washington the nod to get more opportunities working with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the starters as he is weened into a bigger and bigger role in time for the start of the regular season.
James Washington getting work with the first team after impressive NFL debut. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) August 11, 2018
On Thursday against the Eagles, the rookie was able to haul in a couple of passes, including a big one from his Oklahoma State teammate, Mason Rudolph, for 35 yards in a combat catch situation. While he had his rookie jitters and has some polish yet to put on his game, he certainly didn’t look to be in over his head.
Going forward, we will probably see the Steelers giving Washington more work with the first-team offense during the preseason beginning with the next game. This was likely coordinated, if you recall wide receivers coach Darryl Drake’s discussion about the slow maturation process of the receiver as he works toward being a contributor by the season opener.
The Steelers made the decision to draft Washington, a player that they spent a lot of time studying over the past couple of years while also evaluating Rudolph, after they traded wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for a third-round draft pick.
They figure to have two very young receivers as their top targets behind the veteran Brown, entering his ninth season, with Smith-Schuster only heading into year two himself as another former second-round pick, and still just 21 years old.
But both players have demonstrated an on-field maturity beyond their experience. While neither enters the league as a finished product, Smith-Schuster already proved that he was able to be an immediate contributor, and the team fully anticipates that Washington will do the same.
“It’s just a process, you know,” Tomlin said at the conclusion of his team’s Saturday practice when asked what it is that Washington needs to do more of to perhaps start seeing action earlier in preseason games moving forward. “This is not a patient man’s business. I’ll never ask people to be patient, I’ll ask them to work while they wait and he’s doing that. And so the opportunities are going to come, I would imagine.”